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Lockdown looks likely to lift but Queensland still desperate to boost defences

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Four new COVID cases in Queensland overnight include a mystery infection at Brisbane Airport, where a surge in travellers has authorities searching for more quarantine hotels.

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Midway through the lockdown in south-east Queensland and Townsville, a near-record number of daily COVID-19 tests has resulted in only two new community-acquired cases. One is linked to the Alpha variant Portuguese restaurant cluster – like all close contacts the person was already in quarantine – while the other works at the Qatar Airlines check-in counter at the airport.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the airport worker could have been infected by a traveller or fellow staff member, remarking that the low or unknown vaccination rates across the precinct “concern me enormously”.

However, the woman’s viral load was low – too low to determine whether she has the more contagious Delta variant – meaning the risk of her spreading the virus is also lower.

The woman had been to an Officeworks in North Lakes, Coles in Murrumba Downs, Anytime Fitness in Griffith, and to work at Menzies Aviation at the airport. Queensland Health is conducting further interviews and contact tracing.

With only four new cases today, Young has “a lot of confidence” the lockdown could be lifted tomorrow as planned. But she was still cautious about having another potential cluster to chase down, as the number of separate incidents rose to five.

“Five of them simultaneously is a lot so we’ll just have to wait and see how we go,” Young said.

The Palaszczuk Government repeated its call for the cap on the number of international arrivals allowed into Australia to be halved while the current outbreaks are dealt with, and for the Federal Government to mandate vaccinations for overseas travel.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles, who was accused yesterday of misrepresenting the numbers, said the increasing number of arrivals – whether Australian or foreign – came at “great cost and risk to Queenslanders”.

The number of hotspots across Australia is also putting pressure on borders and hotel quarantine. Today, only 140 dedicated rooms will become available in Queensland – and yesterday alone there were 189 international travellers, and 116 domestic travellers, directed into quarantine.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said there were also Defence personnel and other exempt arrivals above the existing cap.

As more hotels are brought into the quarantine network, Queensland Health is also opening up more testing and vaccination sites, following lengthy queues and waits yesterday. It comes amid an intense debate over the lack of Pfizer vaccine supplies for younger Australians and advice on who should have AstraZeneca.

After an unvaccinated receptionist working outside a COVID-19 ward of Prince Charles Hospital contracted the Delta variant from an unvaccinated traveller, infecting at least her brother and prompting the lockdown, the government is also looking to close any gaps in the health system.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said she had written to the five hospitals taking COVID-19 patients to ask whether there was any reason not to mandate vaccinations for all hospital staff, regardless of who they treated.

Queensland currently only mandates vaccination for staff working with COVID-19 patients – the “grey area” with the receptionist is being investigated – but could extend that to all areas of the Prince Charles, Cairns, Sunshine Coast University, Gold Coast University, and Royal Brisbane and Women’s hospitals. The Princess Alexandra Hospital is still not taking COVID-19 patients after earlier breaches.

D’Ath said while vaccination was mandated nationally for all aged care workers, there was no such requirement in health and she believed the Delta variant required tougher measures.

In NSW, unvaccinated nurses and aged care workers have contracted COVID-19 in recent days, as the Sydney outbreak continues to grow.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk repeated her claim Queensland is in a “pressure cooker situation” and would not be able to hold back the Delta variant without Commonwealth support.

“Our hotels were not built to contain it and obviously you’ve seen our hospitals were not built to contain it either,” Palaszczuk said.

Palaszczuk wants the international arrivals cap to be reduced, and the Commonwealth to support dedicated regional quarantine facilities, and will again put the argument to National Cabinet tomorrow.

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